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Another Voice: Laity can play key role in repairing Catholic Church

By Robert Poczik

Catholics are members of a global church with more than a billion adherents, of whom nearly 70% live in South America, Africa and Asia. Though members of a large global church, it is in local parishes that church members worship, learn, grow, form relationships and act out their faith. This is clearly a situation where we need to “Think globally, act locally.”

The clerical abuse crisis has dramatically impacted the Catholic Church at all levels. And it is not yet resolved. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 81% of U.S. Catholics indicated they believe that this is an ongoing problem.

One quarter of U.S. Catholics said that they have scaled back Mass attendance and a quarter reported reducing the amount of money they donate to their parish. This constitutes a crisis of confidence in the Catholic Church.

Locally, the Movement to Restore Trust is dealing with this issue forthrightly and, hopefully, effectively at the diocesan level. This movement lays the groundwork for local parishes to grapple with restoring trust and moving forward.

Key to restoring trust and confidence will be a level of openness and transparency that has not characterized the Catholic Church. It will also require rethinking the relationship of clergy and laity in the operation and governance of parishes.

At Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Clarence, Pastor Ron Sajdak and a small group of committed parish leaders have come together over this past year to form a Lay Leadership Council. The seven members of the Council have been meeting every two weeks with Father Ron and Father Daniel, Nativity’s Parochial Vicar, on a range of issues confronting the parish.

As the council has functioned, we have come to realize that we are rewriting the traditional relationship between the pastor and the members of his parish. As such, we respectfully test and redefine boundaries of responsibility and authority.

We have concluded that we need to stay out of theological and liturgical matters in which we have neither training nor experience. But everything else – including parish finances and the investment in Nativity’s school – are pretty much on the table.

We are fortunate to have in Father Ron Sajdak a pastor with a big heart and a small ego. He is not threatened by this evolving relationship between clergy and laity, and is willing to roll up his sleeves and work with others as equals around the table.

A year into our work as a council, we know that we are at the beginning of this process. Many more in our parish need to become engaged. But we are very sure that we are doing the right work and are moving in the right direction.

Robert Poczik serves as chair of the Lay Leadership Council at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Church in Clarence.

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